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Full text of "First Year Course in College Spanish"

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FIRST YEAR COURSE IN COLLEGE SPANISH 

Report of the Committee of the Central Division of the Modern Lan- 
guage Association of America. Unanimously adopted by the Central Division 
of the Modern Language Association of America, held at the University of 
Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, December 28, 1917, and recommended for 
printing in Hispania : 

Your committee, appointed at the last annual meeting of the 
Central Division to draw up a standard first year course in college 
Spanish, expected to have the advantage of working on reports 
from experiments tried in three different states (Illinois, Kansas, 
and Minnesota) upon the syllabi prepared by the College Entrance 
Board and the Association of Romanic Language Teachers of Cali- 
fornia. For reasons that have to do with the situation in which the 
nation now finds itself these experiments have not been carried out. 
The committee has, therefore, been obliged to draw up its report on 
an entirely different basis. 

Fortunately, two other syllabi have come to hand and a careful 
comparison of all four has given some interesting results, among 
others a remarkable approximation to identity as will be seen from 
a brief statement of the reading requirements for the first half 
year : college entrance board = 100 pages ; New York Minima = 
65 pages (with most classes reported as actually covering 100 
pages) ; National Education Association Minima as proposed by 
Professor Hatheway = 100 pages; Association of Romanic Lan- 
guage Teachers of California = 75-125 pages. 

In working up any syllabus the prime essential is naturally a 
statement of the aim that is to be had in mind in carrying out the 
program. Mr. Wilkins of New York recently made the following 
statement : 

"The aim in the teaching of Spanish is to effect that 
thorough mental discipline imparted by a study of gram- 
mar, idiom and syntax and so to develop that ready and ac- 
curate facility of ear, tongue and eye that, all combined, 
will make the present and future use of the language, and 
progress therein, both possible and certain. We cannot in 
two, three, or even four years assure a student a complete 

31 



32 HlSPANIA 

mastery of the language. But we can and should so train 
him that he may apply his knowledge of Spanish to any 
one or to several ends with the self confidence (conscious 
or unconscious) that he can easily grow up to any de- 
mands that may be made upon his knowledge of the lan- 
guage." 
This is good as far as it goes, but there is at least one thing 
that should be added. In the judgment of your committee the 
teacher should be able even in a first year course in college to instill 
into the student some notion of and appreciation for the spirit and 
culture of the people whose language is being studied. 

With such an aim before us, what will constitute a teacher who 
is well prepared and competent to realize it? An admirable answer 
is given in the report of the United States Bureau of Education on 
Modern Language Teaching: 

"Aside from the ability to teach, and the general cul- 
ture necessary for every instructor, the modern language 
teacher should have a thorough, practical command of the 
language, a solid knowledge of its literature, both ancient 
and modern, and an acquaintance, first-hand if possible, 
with the life of the people whose language he assumes to 
teach. He should know thoroughly the grammar of the 
language, and if he has some knowledge of its historical 
development, it will prove of great benefit to him in his 
work. He should be able to read the language about as 
easily as he would read similar matter in his native tongue ; 
he should be able to write a letter or other composition 
without gross mistakes in grammar or idiom; he should 
pronounce the language with accuracy, though he may not 
have the perfect accent of the native, and above all, he 
should be able to carry on an ordinary conversation with 
comprehension and without undue hesitancy. This de- 
gree of attainment will usually require a period of resi- 
dence and study abroad unless unusual opportunities have 
been enjoyed at home ; in any case, residence abroad, even 
for a short time, is greatly to be desired and should be the 
aim of every serious teacher. In the meantime, defects of 
equipment can be remedied in part by the reading of for- 
eign books and periodicals, by attendance at American 



First Year Course 33 

summer schools, and by association with foreigners in this 
country." 

In these days when methodology has assumed such a prominent 
place in the educational world that some Teachers' Colleges have 
actually found themselves obliged to insist that students who take 
a course in methods of teaching this, that or the other subject 
should also be obliged to take a content-course on that same sub- 
ject, it will naturally be expected that your committee will have 
something to say on the subject of method. Many would have us 
believe that the grammar method is hopelessly out of date; the 
natural method so called (than which there never was anything 
more unnatural) has had its ardent adherents and still has them; 
and at the present moment the reform method or the direct method 
seems to be gaining the upper hand. Your committee cannot help 
feeling that the method that will ultimately be adopted by most of 
our best teachers will contain the best element in each of these 
systems and will reject all the rest. We believe, too, that in brief 
space the ideal method has nowhere been better expressed than in 
the instructions issued to modern language teachers by the Minister 
of Public Instruction in Austria, to wit : 

"The teacher of modern languages should bear in mind 
that he must use the language which is the subject of study 
as much as is possible, and the language of his pupils as 
much as is necessary; but he should never forget that he 
must at all times be intelligible to all the pupils." 

Even though the teacher speak Spanish fluently he must bear 
in mind that his primary object is to teach pupils rather than sub- 
jects. Therefore, as the aforesaid Minister has said, he must at 
all times be intelligible to all the pupils. This will mean that all 
explanations of intricate points of grammar will be made in Eng- 
lish. No one would think of teaching any other science (mathe- 
matics, chemistry or history, for example) in a language unknown 
to the pupils. Why then attempt to teach him anything but the 
simplest facts of Spanish grammar in a language he does not un- 
derstand? Every teacher among us knows from bitter experi- 
ence how difficult it is to get the pupils to understand the intricacies 
of grammar even when they are painstakingly and lucidly explained 
to him in his own language. Furthermore, we should bear in mind 



34 HlSPANIA 

that the leading exponents of the direct method (the late Dr. Max 
Walter of the Frankfort Musterschule and Dr. W. H. D. Rouse 
of the Perse School in Cambridge, England) use the vernacular 
freely in associating clear and correct concepts with the new word 
they may be teaching. Conversational ability in Spanish is much 
to be desired and even in first year work as much of this should be 
accomplished as is possible, but here again we should bear in mind 
the experience of such men as those just mentioned. Dr. Rouse in 
his catalog explaining the method used in his school remarks : 
"At this stage [the Advanced, after five or six years of 
French] the pupils are already sufficiently advanced to be 
taught by a Frenchman in French." 

This doctrine applied to our work- in Spanish will prevent us 
attempting too much in our first year course; and just at this point 
your committee feels moved to suggest that even if at the end of 
a second year we fail to attain speaking ability, our work is well 
worth while, since all our other objects can be attained if our pupils 
acquire an easy and accurate reading ability, for this latter ability 
makes possible an intimate communion with the great minds of the 
country whose language is being studied. Most of us are familiar 
with cases of individuals who have never had the privileges of for- 
eign travel and who speak but indifferently or indeed not at all any 
foreign language but whose knowledge of the literature, history, 
art, and general culture of several foreign peoples is a constant joy 
to all of their friends, as well as to themselves. 

For pronunciation we recommend that Castilian be taught. The 
arguments for and against Castilian have been rehearsed time and 
again. The best recent summary thereof was published by Pro- 
fessor McKenzie as the result of a questionnaire sent to some of 
the leading teachers of Spanish in positions scattered all over the 
country. Your committee's recommendation in favor of Castilian 
is in line with the practice as well as the theory of the vast major- 
ity of those who answered the questionnaire. 

Your committee agrees with the conviction of some of our best 
teachers (as for example the declaration of the Association of 
Romanic Language Teachers of California, reaffirmed in their sec- 
ond edition) that whatever method be adopted training in the 
principles of grammar must form the back-bone of the work in all 
beginning classes. 



First Year Course 35 

While learning to read simple prose with a good pronunciation 
the pupil must also acquire the habit of translating into good idio- 
matic English any text he may be reading. There is much to be 
said in favor of the Latin professor who insisted that the proper 
translation of 

"... ponto nox incubat atra" 
is not "Black night lies over the waters," but rather "Night lies 
over the waters, black." 

For the grammar work there are in particular two methods of 
covering the ground that should be covered in the first year's work. 
One may adopt a grammar large enough to occupy the entire year 
in going over the ground once. This method your committee does 
not favor. The other method is to adopt a grammar which will give 
a skeleton of the entire field in one semester. The second semester 
may then be devoted to a review of the grammar thus previously 
done, with greater stressing of detail. 

There are two ways in which this latter plan may be carried out. 
The first is to take a grammar built on the lines of Edgren's French 
grammar. In this book the part called Part I gives a skeleton of 
grammar that may be comfortably worked through in one semester. 
In this part no mutilated paradigms are taught, but a complete out- 
line of the grammar is presented. Then in Part II, so called, that 
same field is reworked with added details. The other method would 
be to take a short grammar presenting just material enough for one 
semester's work and then using in the second semester some good 
elementary composition book built systematically to enforce a re- 
view of grammar while giving some of the more important details 
that have formerly been omitted. The student will thus have cov- 
ered all of the regular and auxiliary verbs, and most of the more 
commonly used irregular verbs, including all the verbs of motion ; 
the gender and formation of the plural nouns; the agreement, 
formation of plural and position of adjectives; the entire paradigm 
of personal pronouns ; the possessive pronouns (stressing adjectival 
and pronominal uses) ; the demonstrative pronouns (stressing ad- 
jectival and pronominal uses); relative pronouns; adverbs; nega- 
tives, and numerals. 

Your committee especially recommends that in both verbs and 
pronouns the second person intimate forms both singular and 
plural be taught systematically in their proper places. Even though 



36 HlSPANIA 

the teacher do not care to drill the pupils on these forms in the 
composition work, they should become part of the student's mental 
picture of the paradigms in question since he will so frequently 
meet them in almost any reading that he undertakes. 

The study of syntax, as distinct from morphology, should be 
left for the second year's work. 

For reading we recommend the accomplishment of about three 
hundred pages to be divided as follows: 

First semester, 100 pages; second semester, 200 pages. 

For the first semester it would probably be best to use some 
properly graded elementary reader. For the second semester a 
similarly graded advanced reader or even another elementary 
reader of different content may be used, although some teachers 
will doubtless prefer to attempt the reading of individual texts. 
In any case one such text should be assigned for outside reading 
and report in the second semester. The story thus chosen should 
be of about the bulk of El Pdjaro verde. 

In and through all this work in grammar and reading there 
should be constant practice in written and oral reproduction. Hence 
the readers and composition books chosen should be preferably 
those built along the lines that will most easily aid the teacher in 
his efforts in this direction. In this connection, too, the teacher 
should give the pupil constant practice in reproduction in writing 
from dictation. 

Last but not least, your committee recommends that the pupils 
be taught to memorize some really good pieces of prose or verse; 
pieces that will be really worth the pupil's while as a permanent 
acquisition in his memory. For this work we recommend about 
sixty lines for the first semester and one hundred lines for the 
second semester. 

In presenting this syllabus, the committee wishes to call atten- 
tion to the fact that this course parallels, with due differences in 
method of attack, the first two years of high school Spanish as now 
represented pretty generally throughout the country. The pupils 
prepared under either system should be able to enter a standard 
second year course in college Spanish. The committee must call 
your attention to still another point. This syllabus is prepared to 
suit the needs of the college student who has had little or no other 
foreign language work previously. Our syllabus would have been 



First Year Course 37 

very different if it had been made for the type of student who had 
had four years of one language and three years of a second lan- 
guage before taking up Spanish, as used to be the case with students 
who began French or German in freshman year in college. 

This type of student is not very much in evidence these days, 
but when he is met he should not be given this syllabus, nor herded 
with the pupils for whom this syllabus was prepared. Such pro- 
miscuous herding is the height of pedagogical nonsense and is the 
fundamental cause for most of the evils from which modern lan- 
guage study now suffers. 

Respectfully submitted, 

Arthur L. Owen 

E. W. Olmsted 

John D. Fitz-Gerald, Chairman.